The road to 2,000 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car series starts has been quite the memorable one for Donny Schatz.
The 10-time World of Outlaws champion heads into Saturday’s conclusion of the Summer Nationals at Williams Grove (Pa.) Speedway, at 1,999 starts, only needing to start the feature to officially accomplish something that only two drivers have ever done.
Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell stand alone as the only drivers to eclipse that hallowed mark.
What those two drivers have in common, was their ability to transcend and revolutionize the series since its creation in 1978.
Despite the weight that 2,000 starts hold, Schatz hasn’t given the number much of a thought as he competes in his 27th season at the helm of the No. 15 machine.
“It just says that it’s getting a little long in the tooth, and been around a long time,” Schatz said. “I don’t keep up on much of those stats. It was mentioned to me awhile back, but you don’t focus too much on them. You look back and you think how fortunate I was to be able to get to this point, to have the success we’ve had, to be out here this long, to not have major injuries, not miss many races.
“I think it’s more than anything I’ve got to race with a lot of great people over the years,” Schatz continued. “It takes a lot. It always takes great people. I’ve been very fortunate to learn from a lot of great people, and still to this day you still learn from the people you’re around.”
Just looking at the numbers, Schatz has been undeniably a step above the rest of his competitors. He currently sits third on the all-time wins list with 302 feature victories with the Outlaws.
Within those 302 feature victories, sits 10 Knoxville Nationals trophies, only second to Kinser.
As Schatz began to reflect on his career, he was quick to mention that he hopes to still be competing with the Greatest Show on Dirt for a long time to come.
“Pretty excited about looking back on things. Hopefully the best isn’t behind me,” Schatz said. “You kind of like to think that the best is yet to come. But, you just never know. I’m pretty thankful for my blessings, and we’ll see what we can make, and maybe hit another 2,000, I don’t know.”
The Tony Stewart Racing driver currently sits sixth in the standings, with one victory to his name in the season opener at Volusia (Fla.).
Though an 11th championship may be out of reach, Schatz sees the dynamic at TSR growing, amidst a robust amount of changes the past couple seasons that’s left the team searching for answers.
“I think a championship is probably pretty well out of reach from where we’re at,” Schatz said. “But you just never know, we’re at the halfway point. We’d have to run really good. We’ve been more consistent. There’s a lot of things, when things change amongst the team. The whole dynamic at Tony Stewart Racing, things have changed. We now have a nitro (NHRA) side, Tony’s retired. There’s a lot of things that have changed over the years that we’ve probably not kept up with as well as we should. But, that’s just part of it. This is all about communication. Maybe there’s been a little bit of communication gap between us and some of the engineers at Ford over the days, or what data we go by, or just too many people looking for the right answers right now in the moment, and we don’t always have those right answers in the moment, because we got to get racing and find them out.”
As the team continues to find the right answers, Schatz will be looking to keep their recent shift of positive momentum, at a place he’s won a whopping 20 times at before.
Even with the struggles throughout the season, Schatz showed a glimpse of what may be to come, after finishing second in both the King’s Royal and Brad Doty Classic earlier this month.
“Unfortunately, we were second both those times. But, when you start getting those good finishes, you’re going to win races,” Schatz said. “We had an awful finish the other night (Port Royal, Pa.) that was literally out of our control, with a tire issue. That’s the worst finish we’ve had in a long time, or probably the worst finish of the year. So, just the way it goes. We keep digging, I think everybody here is pretty well committed, to do whatever they have to do to win races, to win championships. Myself, it’s been a pretty trying year on a lot of fronts, been a pretty trying couple years on a lot of fronts. But, things are changing, and they’re changing for the better, so that’s a positive. It’s great to see we can change things for the better. It starts to feel good when you have that go your way, so we’ll see what happens.”